Suicide and the Media

June 18, 2008
Sensitivity must be used when the media reports on teen suicides. Sounds obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. And when it doesn’t, you often find copycat attempts in the wake of a teen suicide. How does it happen? Impulsive teenagers are more prone to suicide. Studies have shown that this, combined with a glamorized ­account of the details and the nature of the suicide – the method used, and other titillating information – can cause a spike in teen suicide in the local area. And, when a famous person commits suicide, teen suicide rises on a national level.

Teens often romanticize adventure and living on the edge. According to Pamela Cantor, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Youth Suicide, this can be a deadly combination when faced with a suicide. Cantor says, “Kids see that this is a glamorous way to die, a way to get a lot of attention that they couldn’t get in life.” In an interview, Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect, said, “When the media comes in and does a graphic depiction of it – it doesn’t work to scare kids away.” He notes that teens even create a fantasy of what their funeral will look like. They imagine flying over their funeral and seeing how much they are missed.

In 2005, one young person in the United States committed suicide every two hours. That’s approximately 4,500 teen suicides! Of those, 100 to 200 teens died in clusters. In many cases, the additional victims were friends of the teen or identified strongly with something about his story reported in the news.

In Plano, Texas, where one of the first reported clusters occurred 25 years ago, a teen’s suicide was tragically followed by eight more teen deaths, mostly using the same method. Similarly, when a popular teenager in Bergenfield, New Jersey, ended his life in 1987, several of his friends killed themselves six months later. This was followed by two additional suicide attempts using a similar method. And, when the cluster was studied more carefully, an additional four teen deaths were linked to this first suicide.

Copycat and cluster suicides are played out on a national level when a famous person commits suicide. Media coverage of the event is nonstop, which often leads to more tragedy. For example, according to the New York Magazine article “A Dying Trend,” when Marilyn Monroe took her life in August 1962, the suicide rate in the following month rose by 12 percent, which was an additional 197 suicides.

This phenomenon is not limited to the United States. In 1986 in Tokyo, Japan, 18-year-old Okada Yukiko, a popular Japanese singer, took her life. Her widely reported death resulted in a staggering 31 teen suicides in the following two weeks, a phenomenon that the mass media in Japan called “the Yukko syndrome.”

So what can be done? Research has shown that the way the media handles the reporting of suicides can be critical in reducing copycats and clusters. A study was conducted in Vienna. Between 1984 and 1987, there were a large number of suicides by people who jumped in front of trains. The media coverage was overly dramatic and graphic. A campaign urging the media to change its coverage of these tragedies ­resulted in an 80 percent decrease in incidents of this type of suicide.

According to the Suicide and Mental Health ­Association International’s report on Suicide Contagion, the media should not sensationalize the event or glamorize the victim or act. Describing the method used should also be kept to a minimum. Another ­important step the media can take is to ­focus on the mental health aspects of the suicide. Just saying that the victim was “stressed” or “under pressure” makes it too easy for other teenagers to identify with the victim. Those who commit suicide often have long-standing mental health issues that are often ignored in the media coverage, which is a huge mistake.

Teenagers need to see that they are not “just like” the teen who committed suicide. Suicide is caused by many factors; it is not acceptable for the media to be one of them.

Join the Discussion

This article has 223 comments. Post your own now!

Mandytakara said...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 1:22 pm
if you honestly feel like killing yourself the die!
Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm
That is a horrible and extremely insensitive thing to say. You obviously have never had to deal with suicidal depression before. Don't comment about things you know nothing about.
xprezzionstar replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm
exactly! im not tryion to be mean but if ppl r callin sucidal or self-injury people crazy stupid or sayin stuff like ms/mr Mandytakara said then that only makes matters worse! unless uve been there youself you have no right top say  anything unless u are tryin to understand or help someone in need
GuitarGirl92851 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 11:32 am
Suicide is the most selfish act. Sure, people commit suicide because they feel awful, but it is possible to get help. If you can't find any, then you're not looking hard enough. People who commit suicide don't care enough about other people's feelings to imagine how they would truly feel when they're gone. All they think of is the people who they think will be happier without them. There is always someone out there who will mourn you.
Carrich replied...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm
Uhm no?? I stringly disagree, considering i was suicidal for a long time. It is not a selfish act by all means.  Talking badly about something you cant comprehend is offensive.
CrimsonTears96 replied...
Nov. 10, 2010 at 11:36 am

I'd appreciate it if you THINK before you comment.

If you've never had suicidal thoughts, or self-mutilated, you would have absolutly NO idea what you're talking about.

You say it's "selfish," but the real selfish act here is when the suicidal person is ignored, rejected, and left out in the cold.


So no, commiting suicide is NOT selfish by ANY means.

Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm
I actually laughed out loud when I read your post. How ignorant do you have to be to say something like that? You have no idea what you're talking about. You couldn't even begin to imagine what people who want to commit suicide think and feel. I used to sit alone in my room sobbing for hours. I have never been in more pain than I was in at those times. And looking ahead for better times is almost impossible when you are that depressed. SO, get a clue!!!
xprezzionstar replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm
i agree it is not wise to be suicidal but sometimes you just cant help it or no one is strong enought to speak out for you. it is NOT selfish
Milena replied...
Apr. 15, 2011 at 9:04 am
I agree that suicide is a very selfish act, but may be it is all the same for those who are going to do it. If they don't want to live any more they have right to do with their own life all they want. But anyway i don't justify it, because this depression state may be cured and the man will be able to live a full life.
Aspiringauhor replied...
Dec. 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm
Suicide may indeed be a selfish act, but think of what those who are going through with the act are dealing with. They are in no state to be thinking of how their friends and family will react. 
nillahershey said...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 10:08 am
The media needs to stop exposing teens to such inappropriate subjects, and acknowledge the fact that today's youth is extremely impressionable. The media has a strong negative influence over the world.
Dragonscribe said...
Oct. 17, 2010 at 6:14 pm
So true, suicide gets you attention. But what good is attention when you're dead? How do you even know you'll get to to see what's going on on Earth? I believe in God and heaven, and I do not think He would indulge people who have committed suicide in watching all the attention they receive. Think about it, people. Attention only matters when you can soak it up - and if you can, make it positive attention. Don't ruin the lives of your family just for some fame you can't claim.
teen boy said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 12:58 pm
it is the wrong answer to do some thing like that  :(
brittany13 said...
Sept. 24, 2010 at 9:16 am
I think it is very upsetting that teens would commit suicide because of celebrities. Teens should not commit suicide because of this, if they are having any problems they should go see someone instead of taking their life away. No one wants to see them get hurt, and they have a whole life ahead of them. If you know anybody who is depressed or upset try to help them. It would them and also you!
waligreen said...
Sept. 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm
You have a good point here and this is very well written, but in a way you are also making out teen suicides to be superficial when a lot of them are caused by teenagers who don't know how to deal with pain or unfortunate events in their lives.  Some of them have irrepressible depression or anxiety.  They don't choose to end their lives for glamour or because their favorite celebrity did so.  That is degrading to our generation.
Thanks_For_All_The_Fish42 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 7:00 am
Yes but the fact is that we don't want kids dying because of these problems, and the fact of seeing others doing it can remove the doubt that they may have with suicide. And overall it doesn't matter if you downplay the teenager, what matters is that over 150 people die in clusters of suicides for a reason and there is a way that it can be helped. Awesome article.
_Bell_ said...
Aug. 23, 2010 at 3:36 pm
"Those who commit suicide often have long-standing mental health issues..." I think those who commit suicide really do have a mental health issue, its just not normal. when things get rough in life we just have to be smart enough to know how to make the best out of the situation and move on with life.From things i'v heard about i think more than half teen suicides come from people useing hard drugs that affect their brain to were they have mental issues.
Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm
I think you should re-check your information source. Because DEPRESSION is the most common reason teens commit suicide. 
Jellybean9898 said...
Jul. 24, 2010 at 11:42 pm
this is very strongly written, it really opens the eyes up to what is happening out there.  i believe life is a precious gift, and we underestimate it so much.  it's a gift, why do you want to give it back?  There are other ways to get attention, but it goes back to taking life for granted.  kids and teens get sucked into smoking and drugs when they know it's bad, but they're wasting the precious time they have.  There are kids who can't even make the choice.  There... (more »)
branhambaby said...
Jul. 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm
Its probably never because the world isnt good enough for them, but that they arent good enough for the world.  its not selfish to themselves, but it does effect the people around them, and eventually when eople learn why someone did it, if they do, they might feel like they were in a better place. theres usually signs to prevent it, people just never care enough until after its happened to try and make a difference, but by then its to late.
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